Getting Comfy

most adorable slippers ever

I found these super awesome slippers in my Christmas stocking this year. I'd been ogling them in the Garnet Hill catalog for a few months. Santa is pretty observant! Or Santa was tired of seeing a barefoot me walking around all winter complaining about how cold our apartment is. *cough*

I hadn't seen any slippers I'd liked in months of idly looking around while we were out and about. Then in one issue of this catalog, I saw several that I would happily wear. The ability to find something fun and different is exactly why I don't automatically trash all the fun catalogs that hit my mailbox during the holiday season. Typically, I flip through the paper catalog, then order online. I like avoiding the mobs of shoppers downtown, and the ability to more readily surprise someone with something they haven't seen before.

As I sit here typing this post, I've been doing a quick tally in my head. And I can say that I purchased almost all my holiday gifts -- except for a few foodie items from the Ferry plaza Farmers market -- online. With the bulk of those purchases, from folks who put out catalogs.

I blame my catalog shopping impulses on J. Crew. I am pretty sure they're the ones who got me hooked on it, back in high school. Now, if I can order it online or via a toll free # instead of traipsing out to purchase it, I do.

Here's a short list of my favorite places for procuring unexpected presents:

  • Boden. Girly clothes that are casual, but nice enough to wear to work.
  • Giant Robot. Pop culture toys and t-shirts.
  • Anthropologie. More girlie clothes and interesting housewares. Pretty much all of my favorite pieces I wear to work are from here.
  • CB2. Crate & Barrel's hipper and more affordable sibling. Lots of great housewares.
  • MoMA Store. The Museum of Modern Art in NYC is a great source for all sorts of fun accessories, housewears and prints.
  • DeYoung Museum shop. This is our local museum, and one of my favorite places for looking at (and taking home) jewelry.
  • Dean and Deluca. I don't think I've ever made a trip to NYC -- no matter how quick -- without stopping by one of their shops. I use the catalog and online store to get my fix of their coffee and treats.
  • Muji. I seek out these shops whenever I travel in Europe. Love their plain, non-branded housewares and stationary items.
  • Think Geek. T-shirts, desk accessories, and technonerd items all in one place.

This is how I got all my holiday shopping done well before the holidays, and without leaving my comfy chair. RAWR!

Things making me happy right in this moment

  • crispy fried sage leaves from the stuffing I'm making
  • the tiny bit of Lot 7 wine (made by Raymond) leftover from last night
  • the sense of accomplishment from turning out perfect madeleines for tomorrow's Christmas dinner
  • looking back upon what was a sometimes challenging but overall good year
  • thinking about popping open a bottle of champagne to go with tonight's risotto and stuffed game hens
  • looking at all the adorably wrapped presents
  • knowing that I got much of the wrap on sale at target
  • hoping that L loves his present, which he will open tonight, post bread pudding for dessert

Christmas is in the Air...and on top of My Bookcase

our wee tree
This is our wee fake Christmas tree. You may notice that it looks somewhat similar to, but significantly smaller than, our previous fake Christmas tree.

This is due to our interest in not boarding the kitties for the holiday season. Last year, it was all to clear that putting up our tree would be an exercise in frustration. We envisioned kitties chewing on the tree limbs and batting around the adorable woodland animal ornaments. We'd been holding out hope that somehow they would have settled down in time for Christmas, but they didn't, and thus: no tree.

Christmas just isn't as fun without a tree. So this year, we got prepared.

First, we moved our five-foot tall skinny bookcase into a good spot, without any kitty accessways onto it. Then, we purchased a teeny tiny mini tree at the Macy's pre-season holiday sale.

We put up our tree immediately following Thanksgiving. The results are seen here.

Given our limited space, we couldn't use our previous santa claus tree topper (it would have dwarfed this little tree.) Instead, we had my Hello Santa Kitty take the place of honor at the top of the tree.


Next weekend will be my big weekend of baking. This year's plan includes Merry Christmas Cookies, Chocolate shortbread, and red velvet cookies. Oh! And double chocolate pistachio biscotti too. I'll be bagging them up to take to work. It's going to smell heavenly in our apartment.

The holiday shopping was incredibly easy this year, with almost all of it done online again. I do need to go pick somethings up at the Ferry Building, but other than stocking stuffers for L, I'm done. Which is good because San Francisco is awash with shoppers. I do need to head down to Macy's to take pictures of the SPCA kittens in the windows, but other than that I am trying to stay clear of Union Square until the New Year.

I bought holiday cards but am somewhat undecided about actually sending them out this year. It is starting to feel like a dying tradition. I send out a ton but only see a dozen or so come back this way. Doesn't anyone else love paper as much as I do? I will probably get to writing out cards between sheets of cookies going in and out of the oven next weekend.

Incredibly busy here. But happy.


Compilations That Should Not Be

IMG_0893Every year, I sit down and start updating my Amazon wish list before the holidays, with the same thought circling in my head: "I don't need anything, really. I don't want anything." And eventually, after an hour or so, I have a respectable list of things from Amazon plus items I've noticed in various other stores over the past few months, creating a respectable wish list.

It was due to creating my wish list that a couple of new compilations caught my eye.

I'd know the new Jesus and Mary Chain compilation was coming out, but I wasn't paying much attention. Yes, they are my favorite band in the whole world. However, the "what releases of theirs do I not have list" at this point is down to two very limited edition seven-inches with gatefold sleeves that had postcards tucked into them.

I am not impressed with phrases like "rare b-sides." I HAVE THEM ON 7" and 12" and CD! Ahem. But while perusing my decade-old JAMC google alert, I came across a review, that as it skipped through the inevitable paragraph about all the things to ooh and ahh over on the album, casually mentioned that this CD will include one of the new, unreleased songs they've been playing live in their reunion shows.

After adding that to my wish list, a new title popped onto my recommended for you selections: The Best of Depeche Mode Vol 1. I clicked through to view the play list, and cackled. That's right. Not only did I cackle, I had to read out loud the song progression and inclusions. Why? Because there wasn't any flow. Opening with Personal Jesus and closing with Never Let Me Down Again is totally fine, but the order of the songs seemed as well thought out as a toddler pushing a random button seven times and going with it.

Oh yes, it certainly shows the way the music evolved from the synth-pop days to the harder hitting Violator and beyond somewhat sleazy (in a good way) music I love from them. But it doesn't work. You can't segue from Personal Jesus to Just Can't Get Enough to Everything Counts to Enjoy the Silence. Why couldn't they have even followed a great set list? Oh wait that's because they already did that with 101, the live album from the famed Rose Bowl shows. But when you can already get the 1-CD singles collection, or the 3-box set singles collection, and the 3-CD re-mix album that has my favorite mix ever on it, who is the audience for this album exactly? And how do they justify including some truly meh songs and not including Policy of Truth and World in my Eyes? Oh right, they'll be on Vol 2, presumably. Blech.

A much better compilation bet? The Creation Records story CD that is coming out at the end of November as a partner to the documentary film about a truly amazing record label.

What're you wishing for this holiday season?

Kitty Climbing City

Marcello and Bolvar Lounging in Kitty TreeWhen we picked up the kitties from their vacation kitty spa, we learned that Bo had spent most of his time in the tip-top of their enclosure, in the bump-out perch that overlooked the hallway.

Marcello, being a shy guy, hid behind the kitty perch. But we did see him get in some super fast climbing action.

And it was at that point that I caved on one of my long-standing biases: we bought them a monster kitty tree.

I've always been against having a carpeted kitty tree taking over my living room. Much like how I didn't have a tv in there until a few years ago.

But I realized that I was being a bad kitty mom. They can't go outside, and without a kitty tree, I was having to chase the off my stereo and dresser and desk. This was my concession to their need to climb and scratch and tower over us.

 Of course, after we rented the City Carshare and drug it home, we realized that only with great effort and high potential for bodily harm (to them or to us) could they launch themselves into the highest perch on the tree. And thus: we bought the second shorter tree as a stairway to the big tree.

That's right -- I went from not wanting a kitty tree at all to having two of them taking up a prominent corner of my living room. But in the end, I know it was the right thing to do.

They spend a bnch of their time playing, climbing and scratching on the trees. And, as seen here, snoozing too of course.

My inner minimalist will cringe as she looks at this carpet-covered monstrosity, but as long as it makes the kitty babies happy, and isn't shredded into bits, it's staying. The things we do for love.

Back to the Routine

crosses against a cloudy sky

After five glorious weeks off, I went back into the office on Monday.

Overall, it didn't feel like I missed much. Many things I was working on seemed to have stood in place waiting for my return. And my tidy desk was the same. As was my spectacular view. The only thing that was different? Me.

Somehow, despite a very busy week, with a number of incredibly urgent projects, I've managed to maintain my chill and de-stressed demeanor.

I love my job. But it is, after all, just a job. Having this time off allowed me to put that back into perspective, and I am crossing my fingers that I can retain my inner calm through the holidays.

So although it was back to work, I am trying to not have it be entirely business as usual.


  1. I am trying to manage my time so that I am not back to the 50-60 hour work weeks. I almost caved and logged in to do some work today, but then I didn't. I need my weekend time to re harge my batteries. If I work through the weekend that doesn't happen.
  2. I'm making time for the things that are important to me. That means last week I made time to go to the Giants' World Series parade with my boss and colleagues. And I also made time to go to the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market.
  3. I am happiest when I make time to write. Although my NaNoWriMo novel has not taken off yet, due to heading back to work this week, I spent the bulk of this afternoon writing a meaty post for my gaming blog.
  4. I want to make a dent in the stack of books next to my bed. I just finished Foucault's Pendulum last night, and am working my way through A Handmade Life now. I am trying to make time each night to read. It's a good way to wind down in addition to getting the creative ideas flowing.
  5. I'm back to eating consciously healthy lunches. I'm trying to very my diet, and am makign sure I eat enough fruits and veggies. When I eat better, I feel better.
  6. Likewise, I am trying to not fall back into staying up until Midnight each night. I have to get up at 6:30, so that means 11 p.m. is my target bedtime. I have a tendency to not get enough sleep, which is a killer, especially if you are working under pressure (which I usually am) and intolerable if your workday stretches past 8 hours.

Wish me luck.

Giants Cocktail

During the second game of the World Series, my significant other concocted an easy and delicious cocktail that I've christened the Giants Cocktail in light of its orange hue and its inspiration. Taste-wise, if you loved Orange Julius as a kid, you'll love this cocktail.

  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/3 cup vanilla ice cream
  • 3 ounces vodka
  • 1 tsp vanilla syrup
  • 1 1/2 ounces Grand Marnier
  • 7 ice cubes

Combine the ingredients in a blender and blend for 20-30 seconds until frothy. Serve in the chilled cocktail glass of your choice. Makes 2 drinks.

What's for Lunch? Beyond the Turkey Sandwich

turkey with swissI'm the first to admit I resort to the old turkey and cheese sandwich standby a little too often for lunch. Especially when it's one of those days when I only have time to run downstairs to the cafe and slap together a sandwich then run back to my desk, scarfing it down between conference calls.

But every time I visit the UK, and marvel in the amazing selection of sandwiches available from Marks & Spencer, I always vow to do better.

Here are some of the inspiring sandwiches they have ready to grab and go:

  • Wensleydale cheese and caramelised carrot chutney
  • Cheese and onion
  • Free-range egg and watercress
  • British roast chicken and stuffing
  • Lochmuir™ poached salmon and cucumber
  • British smoked ham salad
  • British roast chicken and bacon

With these ideas fresh in my mind, I'm committing to shaking things up in my lunch sack once I head back to work next week. The first step? Making a list of all the possible building blocks I like on sandwiches and can use to go beyond the boring.


  • Pumpernickel
  • Multigrain
  • Sourdough
  • Lavash
  • Pita pockets
  • Flour tortilla
  • Baguette
  • English Muffin


  • Mayo
  • Mustard
  • Hummus
  • Ranch dressing
  • Butter
  • Peanut butter
  • Apple butter
  • Plum jam
  • Fig jam
  • Strawberry jam
  • Honey


  • Turkey
  • Tuna
  • Chicken
  • Pork
  • Bacon
  • Roast Beef
  • Salami


  • Swiss
  • Cheddar
  • Havarti
  • Goat cheese
  • Feta
  • Blue cheese
  • Provolone
  • Mozzarella
  • Brie


  • Lettuce
  • Watercress
  • Sprouts
  • Onions
  • Carrots
  • Bell peppers
  • Green beans
  • Tomato
  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Banana

In order to not avoid not following through due to being overly ambitious, I'll just aim to try to have at least one creative sandwich per week, targeting Mondays so I can make it ahead on Sunday night. I'll share some of my more inspired results here.

Time for Tea!


It has recently come to my attention that I have too much tea. Personally, I didn't think this was possible. But L assures me that I have, in fact, crossed the too much tea threshold. This is why I only brought home 1 tin of tea -- the Fortnum and Mason Royal Blend tin you see here. Of course as luck would have it, I already had an unopened tin of that tea, courtesy of L's mom's last trip to London. Oopsie.

I have a hanging fruit basket in the kitchen, crammed full of tea. And a few tins hiding on the back of the stove. And a couple in the pantry. It's been worse than this, mind you. So I suppose I could concede that I do have enough tea to last me for a good while.

It's a cold and rainy Sunday, that came in on the heels on a cold and rainy Saturday. So my pot of Dean and Deluca Earl Gray Extra is keeping me cheery and warm as I continue through organizing my many clipped recipes into a nice spiral bound book.

I can't imagine limiting myself to just one or two tins of tea. Because day-to-day, what I am craving to sip in a hot mug changes. Some afternoons I want the Mariage Frères Bouddha Bleu green tea. Other days, it's the Mélange Hediard that grabs my attention.

I make a point of bringing home tea whenever I travel. Thus sipping a cup of it once I return home brings back memories of my travels. Overall, it's a minor vice to have as far as vices go.

Note: To the horror of tea enthusiast purists, I prefer to grab bagged tea for drinking at work, to avoid the hassles of dealing with tea strainers (and inevitable tea stains) on my desk. With traditional tea purveyors like Mariage Frères making new strides in creating tea bags that don't leave your tea tasting papery, I think that prejudice should slowly shift over time. At home, I use a basket insert for my tea pot, or individual spoon strainers with a hinge.

Care and Storing of Your Tea

If you are going to hoard tea as I do, there are a few things to know to avoid ending up with tea that's lost its freshness:

  1. Store your loose tea in airtight containers. I try to buy it in tins whenever possible.
  2. If you bought your tea leaves in a plastic bag, transfer it to a glass jar with an airtight lid, or to a clean, previously used tea tin.
  3. If you buy teabags, make an effort to use them within 6 months of purchase.
  4. Tea bags will stay fresh longer if you store them in an air-tight tin (I reused a Fauchon Madeleines tin for my tea bag storage.)
  5. Don't open all your tins at once. I allow myself 3 open tins of tea at a time when I am drinking tea with any frequency.
  6. Try to find a cold dark (but not damp) place to store your tea. I live in San Francisco's Richmond District so that means pretty much any place in my apartment fits this bill for most of the year.


Scotland Trip Part 2: Edinburgh


It was hard to pack up and leave Glasgow after having such a fabulous time there, but with our limited amount of time for this journey, and our desire to see Edinburgh as well, that's what we had to do.

We hopped on a train which got us to Edinburgh in about an hour or so. I can not express strongly enough how much more pleasant it is to travel by train from place-to-place, versus air travel these days. And the sightseeing from the windows is always interesting,e specially when you aren't able to do day trips, as was the case on this trip.

We stayed at another Radisson Blu, located a short walk from the train station, and in the midst of the Royal Mile. This made for an easy point of reference as first-time visitors to Edinburgh, but if I returned I'd probably pick a place not situated in the midst of the tourist area to have some more peace and quiet.

We unpacked and caught our breath, then headed out for a walk through New Town, on the way to dinner at Dusit. Located down a windy alley between Hanover Street and Frederick Street in New Town, Dusit was more upscale than SF's typical thai restaurant. Have I mentioned that one of my cardinal rules is I must live no farther than 2 blocks from good thai food? If I was moving to Edinburgh, this would be my thai food beacon, based on its rendering of my standard order: Satay Gai and Gaeng Massaman (beef). The Pad Kraprao with duck and the flatbread for soaking up the leftover massaman curry were also excellent. A very good start to this part of the journey.

As we meandered back to the hotel, I saw the perfect pair of ultra girlie fingerless gloves in the window at White Stuff, and made a mental note to stop back there to look at them first hand.

Day 1 of Sightseeing

We dutifully headed up the Royal Mile on our first day of sightseeing, stopping in at the Cathedral of St. Giles en route to Edinburgh Castle. I don't have any photos from that church as they required a 3.50 photography fee, and frankly, the interior was nowhere near as amazing as St. Mungo's.

They were setting up some sort of scaffolding for erecting bleachers in front of Edinburgh Castle, causing me to remark it was starting to remind me of our trip to Venice -- scaffolding and cranes everywhere! This made photo taking more difficult here than in Glasgow, and is reflected in the smaller number of photos in my Edinburgh flickr gallery.

I was somewhat expecting the exhibits at the Castle to be on par with the Tower of London, and thus was a little disappointed. There were very nice expansive views of the city at least, which partially made up for that. We did more walking around in Old Town, and then headed to the National Gallery of Scotland.We skipped the Impressionist Gardens special exhibit since we'd just seen an expansive Impressionist exhibit at the DeYoung and had plans to see its sequel upon our return.

We made it back to White Stuff where I snapped up the adorable fingerless gloves I'd seen in the window (they will be perfect for keeping my hands warm while typing at work.) Unfortunately they didn't have any of the too cool owl tea cozies from their window display for sale -- I definitely would have brought some back for Christmas gifts. Oh well.

The rain showers started after our shopping excursion, but we could see Harvey Nichols across the square so we made a break for it. As we sat and had a cocktail and a snack for a late lunch, the sun came out and gave us a great view from the Forth Floor restaurant. It eventually got to be so hot and sunny, in fact, that I had to have the shades pulled down. I think I may be the first visitor to Scotland to get some freckles from the sunshine! Haha. Somehow I managed to avoid the many temptations in the pantry displays, and headed back to the hotel empty handed.

Since L's birthday coincided with our journey back to London in the midst of this trip, I'd done some homework to find a great restaurant to celebrate in early. I decided upon The Grain Store since they were known for their use of local game and produce. Up a flight of stairs in a windy alley, the Grain Store was candle-lit with dark wood and heavy chairs giving a definitely romantic, old world feel. We shared a pork terrine starter, and I had a perfect venison main course, served with a fruity wine sauce that had a medley of berries and some thin apple slices. L's lamb was also impeccable. But I think the true star was L's dessert -- a peach tart composed of one perfectly ripe small peach half wrapped in a pastry shell. Simple and yet so tasty. Not that my cheese plate with homemade oat cakes wasn't good mind you, but his dessert was perfect.

Day 2 Sightseeing

Before heading out to Holyrood House, we stopped for breakfast at larder, around the corner from our hotel, on Blackfriars Street. Having slept in some, we were there in that strange time between and early lunch and a late breakfast, so I decided upon the special lamb burger. In addition to the cafe offerings, they also had a small deli and bakery selection to go. If our customs rules had allowed for it, I would have brought home some of the venison sausage and some cheese. Sigh. I forgot to write down the name of the producer of the phenomenal unfiltered pink lady apple juice I had with my meal. I wish we had more artisanal juice makers making unconventional apple choices here in Northern California. But at least we have Gravensteins.

On the way up the street to Holyrood House, L caught me gazing at a pretty blue kilt, and we agreed to check it out on the way back (On the way back past it I tried it on and L bought it for me as a present. This means I have to replace my black knee high leather boots sooner rather than later.) Given the shopkeepers on the street's distinctions about these things, I should note that this was an officially sanctioned tartan kilt by Locharron, not one of those silkscreen tourist kilts all kitted up with corset strings that we kept seeing everywhere.

I made an executive decision to *not* stop in at Unknown Pleasures. I was afraid of several things. Firstly, I am not sure I could have spent less than an hour there obsessively looking through all that vinyl, which can be very boring for the not-obsessed-with-records person with whom you are traveling. Secondly, I was worried I would find some must have records that I would then tote around for the rest of the day and then have to fret over through security and the overcrowded overhead bins. I'd done that my first trip to England and believe me it got to be tiresome for all involved parties to have me hissing "be careful! I have records up there!" every time they slung around their bags. I knew the chance of finding too much to carry home was high having ordered vinyl from them via mail order back in the day.

We arrived at the Palace of Holyroodhouse with muted expectations based upon our previous day's experience at Edinburgh Castle. We were very pleasantly surprised, however. Despite this palace being the Queen's official residence when she is in Scotland, there were quite a few public rooms you were able to tour. It was especially interesting to linger in the rooms of Mary Queen of Scots, and look at all the ephemera therein. But the real highlight for me was the ruined Abby, which comprises most of my Holyrood House flickr gallery.

Tired from all the walking around the Palace's grounds, we stopped at Clarinda's Tearoom for a pot of Lady Grey tea and a big fluffy slice of cake with whipped cream filling. The sideboard here was crowded with some amazing looking cakes, but I am sure we made the right choice.

We'd intended to see the surrealist exhibit in the late afternoon, but after walking over to the main galleries, we learned that the free shuttle to the modern art gallery from the primary National Gallery location had been suspended, and the city bus to and from was only running once per hour and decided to forgo it. Thus, we hailed a cab and headed to the Royal Edinburgh Botanical Gardens.

The Gardens were an excellent place to spend the afternoon. We saw many fat little squirrels (and a number of people feeding the little guys which explained their roundness). And we also came to see that this was kitty paradise. While making our way through the greenhouses, we came across an adorable black and white cat, who had apparently strolled in after some other patrons. "Hello there kitty!" I said to him, and he walked up and nuzzled my arm, with a big kitty smile, letting me know he was very pleased with his maneuvering inside. After some persuading, the couple who let him in were able to get him to go back outside. Personally, I thought to myself that this was a very clever cat, heading inside to the balmy 80-degree greenhouse to bird watch.

For our last dinner in Scotland, I decided I wanted some good old pub food. And thus we ended up parking ourselves at the Bank Bar pub next door to the hotel. I had a pint of Caledonian and some crispy and satisfying fish and chips, while L had a burger. Nice to have some comfort food after a day with so much walking.

Two days never seems like enough to explore a new city, but I do feel as though we got a definite taste of the flavor of Edinburgh regardless.

Scotland Trip Part 1: Glasgow


Typically, when I'm headed to a city I've never previously visited, I arm myself with travel books, and google searches for slow food suggested places to visit in that city. But for this part of our Scotland trip, I additionally had a secret weapon: I've been reading about things to do and see in Glasgow -- courtesy of friends who live there -- for a solid decade. Thus, our two full days of exploring Glasgow were a little off the beaten path. Thank you to Lis, Dave and Karina for having shared so many slivers of your city with me over the years.

 Day 1 of SIghtseeing

We hopped on the underground after a 5-minute walk from our hotel, Radisson Blu Glasgow, headed to the West End. We'd chosen the hotel based on its proximity to the Central train station, the underground, and the train station we'd be using to travel on to Edinburgh, and our having had a great stay at the Radisson SAS Blu in Rome a few years ago.

We exited the underground loop at Hillhead station where we met up with our friends Karina and Dave who proceeded to be our most outstanding tour guides for the day. Our first stop was one of my most anticipated sites to see in Glasgow, thanks to its frequent mentions on Facebook: Auntie M's Cake Lounge. Decked out with retro furnishings, Auntie M's is an ideal place to start a Sunday morning with some tea or coffee and a slice of some of the most decadent, delicious cake you can imagine. Both the chocolate orange and the brown sugar cake were excellent. As we prepared to leave, the proprietress asked where we lived, and turns out she's also from San Francisco! Which brings me back to the question I posed on Sunday: Why don't we have a cake lounge like Auntie M's in SF?

We poked our heads into some of the other shops in De Courcey's Arcade, then started our wander through the city. As per usual, I took many many photos of interesting architectural details as we walked around the university and over to the Kelvingrove museum. You can view those in my Glasgow album on flickr.


We spent several hours strolling through the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum's eclectic collections. And lucky for us we happened to be there during a choral and organ program, so we were able to see its impressive organ in the main hall in action.

After the museum, our walk took us up to a primary shopping street where I got to explore a Waitrose supermarket. Yes, I travelled for hours via airplane to Scotland and am publicly admitting to having been excited about having visited a supermarket. The foodie in me can't help it!

I'd read a few issues of their magazine thanks to Fog City News' amazing selection of imported cooking magazines, and had hoped to be able to take a look at one of their markets. It turns out they're sort of a combination of whole foods' gourmet and organic food and selection with a trader joes like emphasis on prepared and packaged foods for convenient meals. If I lived in the UK I can tell you I'd definitely be having them home delivered. No pix from the market, I'm afraid, as I can never tell where I can or can't take photos and have been previously chewed out for taking photos in shops in England.

We stopped to rest our weary feet at the Botanical Gardens, making sure to stop and see the remains of the overgrown undergrown rail line that ran through the area. We also poked our noses into quite possibly the most packed junk shop I've ever seen. I was glad I didn't have a large handbag with me, as I would have been afraid of braking something or starting an avalanche. We just don't have that sort of old school shopkeeping in the States.

This wander through a day in the life of Glasgow's West Ender made me feel a kinship with this city. I'd srt of expected it to remind me of San Francisco as far as being an active, vibrant city full of people going about their business, and that is pretty much how I felt by the time I got back to the hotel to call it a night.

Day 2 of Sightseeing

The other primary spot I wanted to visit, again based upon having heard so much about it and seen photos of it, was the Glasgow Necroplis and St. Mungo's cathedral. I took so many photos between the two places I created a separate flickr gallery for them.


We spent hours exploring the cathedral and the necropolis. I was struck by how much plant life perservered to grow in unlikely ledges in the Necropolis. Several photos show flowery weeds sprouted from the tiniest speck of dirt in a granite groove. As per usual, my favorite monuments were those with weather beaten statuary of some sort. But my favorite photo from the necropolis was of crosses against the bold cloudy sky.

I was truly impressed with St. Mungo's stained glass. On a whole it was some of the most visually interesting and modern feeling stained glass I've seen in a church. And some of it, such as the depictions of various family crests, unckuding a ship's mast on top of a knight's helm, were even quite humorous.

We wiled away the afternoon walking around the city center, stopping in at some vintage stores (L found a cool short sleeved shirt he bought). Our one record store excursion did yield some Jesus and Mary Chain records, but not ones I needed to complete my collection. Which is not surprising given that all I need to complete it at this point are a few limited edition 7" gatefold sleeve editions.

We headed back to the West End for dinner, stopping in at a bookshop with literally 2-deep stacks of books in front of each shelf. Not a place to go if you were looking for a specific book, but the kind of place you could easily spend several hours browsing through and coming home with things you'd never even thought about previously. I resisted the urge to buy some books on Roman architecture, reminding myself how heavy my bags were without lugging home picture books.

Our dinner destination was Stravaigin, a restaurant specializing in using Scottish produce and game, proponents of the "eat local" premise that makes me happy, but with a "think global" spin. I had an excellent mushroom and goat cheese ravioli starter and a main course of morroccan chicken. Unfortunately, I had to forego a cheese plate for dessert as I needed to save room for whiskey at Òran Mór, a bar and restaurant nearby that was housed in a former church. (We drank Isle of Jura if you are wondering.)

After two full days of walking the city, I felt as though I had seen everything on my must-visit list, and would efinitely need to plan another longer trip to spend some more time in the Glasgow, and to use it as a home base to explore the countryside.

Next up: Edinburgh.

Questions I Have Thanks to Recent Travel

  pond at the Edinburgh botanical gardens' greenhouse (but no frogs)

Whenever I travel, I come home with many many photos, tons of interesting experiences, and inevitably, all sorts of questions that occur to me. These are a few that got stuck in my brain during our trip to Scotland...

  • Why would a group of Brits, with all the beer options available to them, bring a six pack of Budweiser on a train? Really, why? Fullers makes so much better beer. I will never understand this one. Note that of course they'd brought 2 other 6-packs of beer with them as well. But still.
  • Why does a self-proclaimed 4-star hotel tell you in its room guide to order off the room service menu, then not provide a menu in the room, then not answer the room service phone #? Right, because they are updating the room service menu but don't have new ones printed yet. Note that we also then played round robin phone tag until we finally got ahold of someone in the restaurant who brought us up... the old room service menu.
  • Why is it that I can't ever take a walk while traveling to any city type place without being stopped and asked for directions? I think it must be the international city dweller uniform of mostly black clothing. I'm usually able to do OK at providing the requested directions, but this time around I was not able to provide walking directions to the British Museum from Euston station, having only just arrived in that neighborhood for my first time a short time earlier.
  • Why are all the lifts perpetually unavailable, or non-existant? I take for granted that the ADA makes the US a very traveler-friendly place. But after a week of schlepping around via trains and having to haul my bags up and down countless flights of stairs, I shall never take a well-placed ramp or elevator for granted again.
  • Why do all the eggs have such rich orange yolks in the UK? And why do only our occasional farmers' market eggs in the States match them?
  • Why do countries issue blanket "terrorism alert" statements like this one? Can it help do anything other than give anxiety to those travelers already abroad?
  • Why is it that only in the UK do restaurants serve a reasonable amount of milk with my coffee and tea? I swear in the U.S. it's always thimbles full of milk, or those play tea set sized cream cups at best.
  • Why don't we have a cake lounge like Auntie M's in SF? You'd think we would by now. Loved its completely inviting, homey, laid-back 50s vibe. And the cake! The cake! Delish. I had a chocolate orange cake that was truly fabulous.
  • Why is it that in the U.S. we think the transportation solution for a greener environment is hybrid cars rather than green/extensive public transportation networks? You can easily live in a European city without a car, getting around from place to place via transit or longer haul trains. Ever time I try to fathom how to get from San Francisco to a conference in San Jose I wonder why we haven't invested in a comprehensive rail network that can get us around the Bay Area more easily. And please don't mention BART -- if you live in the Richmond or Sunset districts, you're looking at taking a half hour bus ride to get on BART, and still having to change to CalTrain and walk a mile to get somewhere. Blergh.
  • Who thought it was a good idea to place a noisy water heater in the wall next to the bed's headboard at the Radisson in Edinburgh? Ah the joy of staying in an old building. I think the solution to this, however, would have been to drink more whiskey, yes?
  • Where are all the cats? Italy has them everywhere. And I saw them in Paris too. But there were too few cats this trip. One in Glasgow at the junkshop door, a ginger, who was muddy and couldn't be bothered with us; the black kitty who got himself let into the greenhouse in Edinburgh; and the white and black tomcat stalking the squirrels at the Edinburgh botanical gardens. I bet it is some sort of conspiracy led by all the birders, nod.

What to Do With Spoiled Kitties When You Go on Vacation?

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Marcello and Bolvar are a year-and-a-half now, and thus old enough for us to not feel terribly bad about leaving them to go on vacation. Yes, a prime reason we didn't do any overnight travel for the past year was we simply didn't know what to do about the kitties.

That's a pretty unique POV for us to have, mind you. Mister Bill was a very well-behaved old man kitty, able to make do with a one per day visit from a favorite cat sitter, grazing at his dry food feeder, and only mildly annoyed that his kitty water fountain was not up to his usual standards of pristine cleanliness.

These two are a whole different story. In large part due to their age, but also their distinct personalities. Bolvar, in addition to waking me up at precisely 6:30 a.m. every morning (the time at which my alarm typically goes off for work) whines about wanting new dry food at precisely 9 :00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. And he and Marcello's play can get out of hand enough to warrant time outs in separate rooms. thus, leaving them at home largely unsupervised just doesn't seem to be a good fit.

 After asking around, I settled on Feline Wishes on the recommendation of my friend Sharon who had entrusted them with the care of her kitties on multiple occasions. Unlike some of the other places I looked into, Feline Wishes is cats-only, which is key to giving kitties not used to being around dogs a less stressful stay in my opinion. Their reviews on yelp were excellent, save for a few negative reviews that are hard to judge from a validity/truth standpoint (which is a frequently recurring issue I have with yelp reviews, since they don't give any way to vote down an invalid/incorrect/spurious review, unlike ePinions and other such review sites.) 

I took a look around the facilities and was impressed with the setup. Kitties have a good sized space (think a slightly deeper bedroom closet) with a climbing rack with multiple perches, and a top of the enclosure bump out that allows them to spy on the hallway (and any person or feline out and about). And contrary to one yelp review which posited that the purveyors lied about letting the kitties have free roam every day to get some exercise and explore, when we arrived there was a kitty on walkabout.

I was impressed by the depth of their pre-stay intake paperwork. It was on par with registering a child for camp -- asking about the pet's personality, favorite activities, quirks, etc., and allowing you to specify any special dietary needs. They even encourage you to bring in your cat's favorite toys and bedding to help them acclimate more quickly.

It remains to be seen how they actually *do* there on their first stay. But I'm hopeful that they'll have fun exploring, and that they'll play fetch with Marcello and give Bo many belly rubs, and become a place we can leave the kitty babies without worry.

Farmers' Market Find: Fruit Cheese


I haven't been getting down to the Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market as often as I'd like. Too often when the choice is between sleeping in versus getting up and heading down there early enough to actually peruse the market, the sleeping in wins. And with the market's popularity, you really do need to get there early before the sightseeing crowds overtake it.

I usually squeeze in a power walk to the Tuesday or Thursday markets (it's a nice mile walk round-trip from my office, with the way back a mild workout from carrying a sack or two of produce.) But both are mini-markets as compared to the hundred or so stalls on Saturdays.

Last weekend, I was determined to make it happen. We reserved a City Carshare and set the alarm, and thus the plan was set.

In addition to stuffing our expandable reusable bags with avocadoes from Brokaw, goat cheese from Redwood Hills Farm, and artichokes from Iacoppi, I had to stop by June Taylor's table to replenish my jam supply. I'd just finished up a jar of her amazing Santa Rosa Plum conserve. I went with a Gravenstein apple butter instead of a jam. My SO's mom had given me a jar she'd made last year, so I was already a convert.

While at June's table, these little baby bundt cake jelly mods caught my eye. On closer inspection I saw they were fruit cheeses. June saw my inquisitive looks at them, and offered me a taste. In short, they taste like a grown-up's fruit roll-up. And I immediately decided to grab one of the Santa Rosa Plum fruit cheeses to take to Thanksgiving dinner, to pair with some local cheeses.

This was my first encounter with fruit cheese as far as I know, which is osmewhat surprising given how much fruit and vegetable preservation my grandmothers on both sides used to get into. They are a great way to preserve an overabundance of summer fruits, as an alternative to jams and marmalades. And best of all -- you can store them in a dark, cool cupboard until you need them.

I think I'd ike to try my hand at making some next year. They seem like they'd be great hostess gifts for the holidays. And they don't seem to be any more difficult to make than jam, other than the unmolding part. In this age wherein we can do so much quickly and efficiently virtually, including ordering our groceries online, it's little discoveries like this that make taking the time to go out and shop and talk with the artisans and growers at the market such a good expenditure of time.

SF Zoo Outing


I've been remiss in not posting about this sooner. Especially since we have such great photos from this excursion.

I invited my childhood BFF and her two fabulous youngsters to come spend the day in the City, to go visit the San Francisco Zoo. I hadn't been there since I was about 6 years old, to the best of my memory.

Since it was lunchtime and we were all starving, our first stop was the Beach Chalet restaurant. Since they don't often get into the City, we thought it would be cool to have lunch with an Ocean Beach view. I was pleased that I was able to get the little ones to try the hummus.

"What's that," asked Spencer.

"It's dip," I replied.

"What kid of dip?" he asked.

"Bean dip. Garbanzo beans. You'll like it," I assured him.

I should note here we ate every last crostini and polished off the bread plate as well, leaving no speck of hummus uneaten.

After that, we headed to the zoo, and spent the remainder of the day checking out all of the exhibits, which ended up being quite a bit of walking for the kids. Once everyone was tired out, we sought out the only open snack bar (Only 1 snack bar open on a Summer day? Really?) Unfortunately, only 1 open snack bar means one thing: Seagull mayhem.

If multiple snack bars are open, you don't have the entire flock of seagulls (no, not *that* Flock of Seagulls) concentrated in one place, with their beady little eyes trained on your hot dog or churros or ice cream. But I was prepared for those sneaky little bandits, and kept them chased off from the teeny tiny toddler level table we sat at.

I was impressed with the improvements to the living conditions of the animals. On the whole, they had so much more room to spread out and run, play, and enjoy the day's limited sunshine. They don't have the luxury of all of San Diego Zoo's space to spread out, but it is still a major improvement over the concrete enclosures I remembered from my childhood.

The only bummer of the day was most of the big cats were hiding or sleeping. We nearly missed out on the lion that graces this page, as he was lazing about in the far back of the enclosure. But once he decided there was a large enough audience awaiting his presence, he slowly sashayed out towards midfield, and gave us all a good pose.

At closing time, we packed up and took Erika and her family back to BART and vowed to have another outing soon. I think a visit to the California Academy of Science might be a good next visit. I wish they lived closer so these wouldn't de such rare events.

A few favorite photos:

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If the Customer is Always Right, Why do so Many Salespeople Act Like They are Doing You a Favor?

These glorious shoes were my birthday present to myself. I saw them on display at the Dr. Marten's shop on Haight Street. I needed a half size up from my usual size, which they didn't have on hand, but the salesclerk promised to call me in a few days when they got in a new shipment. Two days passed, and the clerk called me with bad news: they didn't get in any more of the mary janes, and it looked like they wouldn't be getting any more of them period.

"OK, thanks, what a bummer," I said, about to hang up.

"Wait!" said the clerk. "You should check Zappo's for them. I'm pretty sure they should have them."

And you know what? They DID have them. And now I have a fond place in my heart for the Dr. Marten's store and that awesome salesclerk. She took what would have been a customer disappointment and turned it into an example of going above and beyond.

I've been on a bit of a roll lately, with a few truly outstanding customer experiences coming my way. Like the salesclerk at Cost Plus World Market in Daly City who looked through the depths of their backroom to see if the chair I wanted had gotten in any of its out of stock powder blue versions (it had.) And the Apple Genius Bar team member who, after my iMac was brought back less than 24 hours after they'd had it for a week and a half to fix a problem it had also been brought in for 6 weeks previously (for which they'd had it about 2 weeks) got my computer replaced.

But this small flurry doesn't make up for the many customer service misses that I've had this year.

  • I've walked out of Macy's Union Square due to an inability to get any assistance with obtaining assistance in the dressing room with obtaining alternate sizes of clothing.
  • Also at Macy's, I had a saleswoman so self-involved with her colleague and when her lunchbreak was going to be that she sent me home with a garment that had its security tag still left on, another garment that needed dry cleaning before being worn (without an offer to knock anything off its price), and folded everything so poorly and shoved it into a bag that it was all wrinkled by the time I got home.
  • I'm done with pre-ordering anything from Office Depot, after having two back-to-back experiences where I show up to find that my order has not been filled, and that the store manager, of all people, can't find it in the system, and doesn't know what to make of my request that they just pull the item off the shelf then. I seriously watched a clerk walk around with my ID in his hand for 10 minutes, wandering around, as though it might somehow lead him to my items...At least they weren't rude to me and didn't try to send me hoe with someone else's much smaller order, like the folks at the Beverages and More on Geary when they did the same thing. So I will still shop with them, just not online.
  • At Andronico's, a local gourmet supermarket chain, the checker was in such a hurry that she started ringing up the guy behind me before my groceries were bagged or I'd had a chance to put away my wallet. Prompting the impatient customer behind me to tell me to hurry up and get out of the way. All while the checker pretended I was invisible, not the customer who'd just bought a shopping cart full of food from her less than 15 seconds earlier. This customer also drove around the parking lot to flip me off, incensed by my reply of "Actually, my groceries aren't even bagged yet, so I don't have anywhere to go."

But these were small potatoes compared to my worst recent customer service experience, which was at Nordstrom of all places. For our anniversary, I wanted to buy my significant other something practical that I knew he wouldn't splurge on for himself: a nice pair of shoes he could wear to work that wouldn't bother his feet. Wanting a good selection, and to have a salesperson take some time with us, we went to Nordstrom. The clerk who'd been helping us was moderately patronizing to my boyfriend, which should have been a warning sign, but I thought I was possibly being oversensitive. So I ignored the annoying comments here and there, we picked a great pair of shoes, and took them up to the counter to be rang up.

"I'm paying for these," I said, as the clerk told my boyfriend the total.

"Oh, of course you are," he replied.

Huh? I gave him a look that I thought conveyed, "what's that supposed to mean?" but apparently it did not. He continued, "Are you his sister? His sister, or his mother?"


Please note: I am a few years older than my boyfriend. I am not, however, old enough to have given birth to a 20-something, nor do I look as though I am 50-years-old and actually old enough to be his mother.

I was mortified. Embarrassed in front of a crowded counter full of people in a busy shopping center.

"I'm buying them as an anniversary gift," I replied. "He's my boyfriend."

I am pretty sure he had something else to say about that. But I was so upset by this point that, frankly, I couldn't hear anything.

I cut short our shopping trip, no longer in the mood to shop.

I was upset about this interaction for a few days, and thought about complaining. But to whom? And about what? "Dear Nordstrom Director of Customer Service-- I was embarrassed by your clerk calling me either a cradle robber or an old bag at your store this weekend..." Instead, I just haven't been back.

Can physical stores afford to lose customers to bad service in this economy? If I can just as easily go buy my items from your website, or from Amazon's (which has some of the best customer service I've encountered, not that I've needed it much despite my many purchases.)

The smart stores try hard to make sure your experience is a good one -- even if it's correcting their error after the fact. Take Macy's for example. I'm guessing that they are proponents of the Client Promoter Score methodology. After that bad experience with the security tag etc., I got a customer survey request from them in my email inbox. They knew who I was because I'd used my same credit card for online purchases previously. I filled out the survey, and gave some specific feedback on the issues I'd had with my visit, and hit submit.

Less than 6 hours later, at the phone number and at the time I'd noted I would be available should someone wish to follow up on my survey, one of the assistant manager's called me to apologize for my experience, and to offer to do what they could to make it right. It took a little while and some email back-and-forth with her to ID my transaction, but in the end, she refunded me for a nice percentage of my entire purchases -- not just for the ones that had issues. I felt done right by. No, I won't shop with that sales associate ever again, but I will go back, because once they knew there was a problem, they handled it with me.

Here's hoping more companies stop and think about empowering their customers to give them feedback about the good -- and the bad-- experiences they have with them. Of course, we can always just blog and tweet about the bad experiences regardless of if the company joins the conversation. But if they're smart, they'll *want* to hear what their customers are saying about them, and will understand what an unprecedented opportunity that is to improve their client experience, and win us over as raving fans for life.

A Shared Group Experience That Wasn't

Last night, we went out to see "The American", the new film from Anton Corbijn, starring George Clooney. I was excited to go see it, having been a big fan of his photography for decades (yes, seriously), and his iconic video work for Depeche Mode. I'd really enjoyed his first full length film, Control, based on the tragically short life of Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis.

The film opened with a gorgeous snowy landscape, in Sweden, and immediately conjured up Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence" in my head. We were drawn in to the dangerous day-to-day life of Jack, a weapons expert and assassin by trade. Having seen the trailer, and being well-versed in Corbijn's work, I knew this wouldn't be some run-of-the-mill "assassin pulls one last job" movie.

As the movie progresses, you see it's really more of a statement regarding figuring out what gives your life meaning. Having an exciting job with lots of money isn't it. All you really have in life are your relationships with other people. The rest is filler, not what's important. Jack comes to this realization by the end of the film. But as the film ends, you fear he figured this out a tiny bit too late. And that after executing all the elements of his plan perfectly throughout the film, when he most needed perfection, he fucked up. The final scene leaves you with a jack who is angry. Angry at himself for messing up. Angry for not realizing what mattered sooner. Finally, the assassin's mask is lifted and he shows this final emotion.

Corbijn fades out to the trees in the Tuscan countryside, leaving you, the viewer, to decide how this film ultimately ends. Personally, I love ambuguity in films, especially in the endings. (I loved that about Inception, for instance, and know that was the element most likely to vex many of the folks I know who saw it.)

As the screen faded to black, I'd started to tear up a ittle. I'd really enjoyed the film. And at that point, a group of 6 or so people sitting near me, started hissing.

That's right. They hated the movie. But they decided that was not enough of a statement. And thus, I had to listen to these self-appointed arbiters of culture complain loudly about how "this was a terrible movie." The "worst movie I've ever seen."


I know we all have our own expreience of films, and pieces of music, and books, and of art. But, frankly, the last time i saw this kind of righteous indignation was when I saw Lost Highway. Someone walked out of that midway through, possibly during the S&M scene with Marilyn Manson's "Apple of Sodom" playing. It didn't surprise me during that film because quite honestly, I love David Lynch but I have seen numerous people lose it while watching his movies in the theater.

But I was shocked at all the noise these folks felt compelled to make on their way out of the theater, thus imposing their opinions over the experience of the rest of us -- the majority of the audience -- who'd sat there wanting to soak up the ending of the movie as the credits played out. To be fair, they weren't the only people who hadn't liked the film. A couple in front of us had stalked out of the theater after a scene with Clooney and a lady of the evening.

After a few minutes of their hubbub I really couldn't listen to more of it. And thus I said in a stage whisper to my SO, "I guess they were expecting a Hollywood action film where the guy gets the girl and they all live happily ever after." Happily, their obnoxious commentary stopped after that, as they packed up and left.

I'm not proud of stooping to their level, mind you. But I couldn't stand another minute of listening to their boorish commentary. Save it for your post-movie dinner chat with your friends. The strangers in the audience with you are not interested in your opinion. Really. We're not.

I wonder what had compelled these folks to trek out to the Sundance Kabuki (that's right, they're affiliated with that Sundance, the one that puts on the independent film festival) and pay a premium to watch this film. All I can think of is one of the ladies in the group was a big George Clooney fan and convinced everyone to go along with it.

 I'll never know what their issue was with the film that caused them to raise their voices to ensure everyone in the audience could hear how much they hated it. But it was a good reminder that these shared experiences we have in a large group of people...they're not the same experience for all of us, even though we all take part. And hopefully next time I encounter folks acting in this manner, I'll be able to just shush them.

Kittens: One Year Later

It's been a little over a year since we brought home our kittens Marcello and Bolvar. And in that time, they've truly developed their own personalities -- and their own flavor of sibling rivalry.


Marcello remains as handsome and charming as his namesake. His key traits are his aggressiveness and his playfulness. And the fact that 99.99% of the time he is about to do something very naughty.

What do I mean by naughty? Shredding the notes slipped under the door by our property manager and then soaking them in the water dish for good measure naughty. Drowning grey mousey in the water dish naughty. Luckiy for him the naughty is balanced with his sheer joy of playing.

Although he can entertain himself for hours chasing light beams from the window around the living room, his favorite game is fetch. He'd fetch a flippy toy or a mousey for a half hour if you had the patience for it. He murps and runs and retrieves the toy, running it back to you with immense pride.

Much of the aggressiveness comes out towards his formerly BFF, his brother Bolvar. Gone are the days of the two snuggly kitties on the chair. They are engaged in a full out battle for dominance of the household. And the war is typically started by Marcello walking up to his brother and giving him a slap (or three) in the face. It'w one of the funniest interactions to witness. Especially once Marcello runs away murping, after Bolvar takes the bait and comes after him.


Over the past year, Bolvar has really come into his own. Gone is the somewhat passive, teeny kitty that would get pushed aside at the food bowls. He's now the bigger of the two, and a real chowhound (every kitty gets his own dish here, and there's no stealing each other's food, thus his bulking up.)

He's nearly as handsome as Marcello, save for a big raised scar across his nose, which we think came from one of his boxing bouts with his brother. Bo's the lover of the pair, always coming up to us looking for pets and chin scratchies. And frequently lolling on his back for belly rubs and gentle wrestling.

He tries every so often to vocally communicate with his humans, sounding off with the most pitiful wails if we are 15 minutes later than usual with dinner time. But his most common sound is that of purring. At about the time my alarm should go off each morning, I am instead awoken by PURRPURRPURR in my ear. I've never met a kitty whose motor sounds as loud as Bo's. And if you pet gets even louder!

These little guys have helped immensely in replacing the void left by Mister Bill.

P.S. for more kitty baby photos, check out their flickr album. I can't believe they were ever so tiny...

Marin County Fair Recap

  Llamas at the Marin County Fair

For me, it's simply not summertime without at least one county fair visit. Typically, our fair of choice is the Sonoma County Fair, but this year we decided to mix things up a bit with a trek to the Marin County Fair instead.

Overall, the fair seemed a little bit smaller than the other ones I've attended, which probably makes sense given the cost of the land in Marin County versus everywhere else. But this fair had stormtroopers, courtesy pf being in ILM/Lucas Ranch's backyard. How many other fairs can boast that? I was also seriously impressed with their culinary competitions -- and I am inspired next year to enter some of my own creations. Specifically, some baked goods. Unlike many other fairs which limit entrants to the local county, Marin's are open to any California resident. Huzzah! Now to decide what to bake...

In addition to taking a gander at all the adorable farm animals, we did a serious once over of the food vendors, because fair food is serious business. As we entered, we saw a few small ubiquitous fair food vendors, including funnel cakes, but we kept moving through the crowds until we hit the permanent structure housing the "Marin Food Court." I had a hunch that much like the fairgrounds in the central valley, the permanent structures would house local ethnic and civic organizations for whom the fair was a primary annual fundraiser. And I was right!

Although there were some of the expected fair food staples, like hot dogs and hamburgers, this being Marin County, there was also a self-billed "healthy gourmet vegetarian" food stall as well. Which seemed to be where the Perry Farrell-lookalike had gotten his food from. We settled on the Greek orthodox church's gyros stand, and some lemonade from the lemonade stand. And I couldn't have been happier. Well, unless I'd had a Lagunitas Farmhouse Ale. But that's a Sonoma County Fair thing.

Overall, a nice way to pass a couple of hours. But I miss the Stanislaus County Fair's linguica. I think we may need to make that next year's fair pit stop.

You can see more pix of cute fair animals in my Marin County Fair flickr set.

2010 Golden Glass Wine tasting and Slow Food Fundraiser


I spent a few hours enjoying the 2010 Golden Glass Tasting at Fort Mason Center with my SO today. It was an easy sell -- buy a ticket for an event that benefits slowfood SF, and get to taste wine and nibble on various artisanal and handcrafted treats? Clearly it was up my alley. And the half priced tickets through bloomspot sealed the deal.

Having been to many wine events at Fort Mason Center, I was struck by how relatively uncrowded the event was. Yes, we had to wait in a 10-person line for claiming our will call tickets, but we were able to easily get up to the tables without anyone shoving us out of their way, and easily caught the eye of those pouring the wine. We even had the opportunity to talk to some of the winemakers and chefs in attendance.

Too often at these events, I feel like a salmon swimming upstream, and feel like I've escaped with my life at the end of a tasting. Today on the other hand, I got to enjoy the food and wine, and be leisurely in making a pass around the floor. I would love it if someone could figure out a way how to retain that sort of a feel in these tastings, while still making the event seem like a good expenditure of time and money for the participating vendors.

Highlights of What We Tasted


Unlike you typical wine tasting which offer up a little bit of bread and possibly some cheese, this event had a number of artisan food purveyors and chefs on hand, which gave you the opportunity to do some food and wine pairings.

  • Perfect crust on the flour+water summer squash pizza, complete with a nice dark blister. They had a wood fired pizza oven out front in the bed of a pickup to make these delicacies. Really need to try to eat dinner there soon.
  • Serpentine and slow club shared a table and had perhaps the tastiest treat of the day -- sliders of roasted pork shoulder with pickled strawberry jam and arugula. Not a combination I would have come up with but perfect as a hand-held taste. It makes me want to start making some pickled jams myself, even if it's just pickled onion jam.
  • A16 had some tender pulled pork on a substantial hunk of baguette. A moist and delicious pork product.
  • The abundance of Italian-inspired food, and the tables of Italian wines already had my brain ready for a vacation even before I had the tiny square of cheese with a drizzle of honey from Marcelli Formaggi. But I am pretty sure I started babbling about how we needed another trip there soon after consuming that amazing honey.


San Francisco was having an unusually warm day (80s), which meant I tasted a lot more whites than usual. And I just could not bring myself to try some wines that looked great (I'm thinking about those amarones) because the heat made the prospect of most red wines seem daunting. That said, my three favorite wines of the day were all reds.

  • Navarro's 2007 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir was my hands-down favorite. I know when I think pinot noir I often think of a substantial wine that needs a hearty dinner to go alongside it, not a sipping wine. But I'd happily drink this lighter than average pinot while cooking dinner. Their dry gewurtztraminer was also superb.
  • At the next table over, Handley's 2007 Anderson Valley pinot noir was another lighter pinot noir stunner. Not that I was surprised since I've been a huge fan of theirs for some time. Unfortunately, they didn't bring along their sparkling wine -- it would have been perfect today.
  • Although I'd done some wine tasting in southern Italy, I hadn't really looked into seeing if the greater Venice area, where I spent half of my last trip to Italy, had wineries to visit. But after having Nicolis' SECCAL valpocella DDC CLassico Superiore, you can BET I am going to look into arranging a private tour next time.

What Could be Improved for Next Year

I do wonder, however, if the lack of signage at Fort Mason was a factor in the sparse attendance. Even I got nervous I'd written down the wrong date on my calendar and pulled out my ticker confirmation to check. The 2-day crystal fair had a few signs up, and the Warhammer 2000 tournament was an easy to stumble upon beehive of activity. But the Golden Glass tasting was at the Center's far corner, and without any signs letting you know it was there until you actually got up to it. I have to think that on a gorgeous day like today, in the 80s, signage throughout Fort Mason Center would have generated some significant foot traffic for them.

Something else I'd love to see is use of those little reusable plates that hook on to your wine glass. Why do I mention this? Because a volunteer/staffer at the event went calling after me as I walked my used plate to the compost bin. I'd used the same plate at two stands, and needed to free up my hand for my wine. I'm actually *not* coordinated enough to carry and eat a plate of food and a glass of wine. At home we have a teeny garbage can + a huge recycle can and a handy compost bucket. I don't drive. I am limiting my carbon footprint! And thus, I don't want an event volunteer giving me  a hard time about ditching my used plate (as an aside, I didn't use another plate at all for the event.)

And finally, slow food events need to get over the little food tickets. No one wants to spend $70 per ticket (full price ticket cost) to get in and receive 5 food tickets, then have to pay another $20 for 5 more tickets for a few more tastes. It was one of my primary annoyances with the slowfood nation tasting here a couple summers ago. None of the food stalls would accept them because clearly they felt the same way as well. Please don't nickel and dime us when we are there in support of this cause we all feel passionate about!

P.S. If you're wondering about the lack of photos from today's event, that's due to my grabbing my small camera at the last second and not checking its batteries. First time in all my years of writing about this stuff that I've made that error, and hopefully will be the last time as well.

Reading a Homemade Life

Walking back from the neighborhood nail salon, enjoying the sunshine and light breeze, I started to become incredibly envious of Molly Wizenberg, whose book A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table, I'd been reading while the polish dried on my toes.

I've long been a fan of her blog, Orangette. I like the long rambly stories that end in a recipe for something yummy. But while reading the book, I felt a wave of envy come over me, because so many of her stories told a tale of a truly engaged family, with a shared love of good food.

I started to think about what my imaginary book of recipes would be like... But mine was a childhood wherein I thought green beans were only available for purchase as a frozen food item, and my birthday cakes were from a boxed mix (though their amazing chocolate bar thick icing was made by hand.)

Yes, some of my initial forays into cooking and baking were beside my mother and grandmother, but on the whole it was really the absence of family around that prompted me to learn to bake, and later to cook. My joy in procuring treats from the farmers market came from moving to San Francisco and making my first trek to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, probably in 1997 or thereabouts.

It was there at that market that I discovered how different strawberries can taste when grown by different people in different locations around the Greater Bay Area. And fell in love with my favorite artichoke producer, Iacopi Farms. And the avocados from Brokaw. It opened up a whole new food world for me.

But back to the book. If you are a fan of the blog, you will find the book to be a thoroughly enjoyable, quick read. She starts out with her father's potato salad. If you read this recipe and think yum, like me, you will want to keep reading-- and dog ear some recipes for trying out soon. Highly recommended.

LOST Comes to a Close

In less than a half hour, the pre-show starts for the series finale of LOST.

Yes, I am one of the millions who got sucked in to Lost. In fact, it's the first show I've watched religiously since Twin Peaks was on the air. Yes, I was a huge fan of Buffy, of course, but I didn't DVR and backup VHS record it, ya know? But I was like that with Lost. (And for the record, my college best friend Aysha's mom used to record Twin Peaks for us if we were going out to a concert and couldn't watch it live, and overnight it to us.)

Why was I so committed to Lost? Probably in part because it was a mystery. And I wanted to ensure I had my opportunity to see it first-hand and form my own opinions before the Interwebs had their way with me and spoiled an episode for me. But the other reason is I really cared about the characters. And that happens so rarely for me in TVland.

As an aside, I wasn't an immediate Lostie. I saw my first episode in a most unlikely place. The SO and I were flying back from London, on Virgin Airlines, and picked out the pilot from the line-up of movies and television shows available to us. Even the big black screen warning that what we were about to watch contained footage of a plane crash that could, you know, be potentially upsetting to someone currently traveling over the ocean in a huge jet, didn't sway us from watching.

And thus started our multi-year obsession with LOST.

After tonight. we'll go back to our non-tv-watching selves. And I'll have a twinge of missing Sawyer at 9 p.m. each Tuesday night for just a little while.

P.S. I promise to come back here and leave spoilerific comments about the finale post-watching and digesting, after the cut.

Continue reading "LOST Comes to a Close" »

Blogroll Cleanup, and a Status Update

I've been poking around tidying up the blog, including tackling my blogrolls. I'd love some sugegstions for some additional food and design blogs to read since it feels like so many have gone dark over the past year. I'm such a softie though I can't seem to delete the links to a few defunct blogs I still love but haven't had posts since 2009. Having watched my own posting habits wax and wane over the years though, I know how it is.

My posting here over the past year has been sporadic at best. I tapered off while mister Bill was sick, and never truly got back into the swing of things. 

Also in the past year, I have made a pledge to myself to try to reconcile my foodie tendencies with eating more thoughtfully and healthfully. Some examples:

  • I gave up my beloved Strauss Organic whole milk for 2%.
  • My sandwich bread of choice is now a whole wheat or multigrain instead of sourdough.
  • I've started ordering skinny vanilla lattes at Starbucks.
  • I've cut back on my use of butter, but ramped up my use of olive oil.
  • I take a walk to the Tuesday Farmers' market or the local natural foods store a couple times per week to pick up luscious fresh fruit, and bring a baggie of fruit or an apple with me to work every day.
  • I've cut back my lunchtime eating out -- and try to get a great veggie sandwich or a salad if I don't bring my lunch.
  • I save the fish and chips and hamburgers and fries for a weekend treat.

These small, easy-to-do changes are helping me feel more healthy, save money, and my favorite clothes all fit a lot better. My immediate motivator for these changes was the age-old "couldn't fit into my favorite skirt." But I found that even after I lost a few pounds, I stuck with the eating better habits, and didn't feel like it was such a loss.

Stay tuned for some more healthful recipes and pantry lists here soon.

SF International Film Festival + Vacation Week

In 8 days, I'll be packing up my laptop and taking a much needed week off from work.

We're not planning on doing any traveling since I have a sabbatical in October and we're planning on heading to Scotland for that. Instead, we timed this week off so it coincides with the SF International Film Festival. For the past few years, it seemed like most of the screenings we wanted to attend were in the middle of the day. Thus my brilliant idea of taking the week off so we could go this year.

Of course, much of what we picked ended up being...late evening shows. Ha! So much for all that planning.

Our watch list thus far is these five films:

This should leave us with a free day to head out to the Valley to get to meet Emma, the Valentine's Day  addition to the Stevens family. And possibly a day to head up to Napa or Sonoma. Looking forward to having a few lazy days to recharge.

Cupcake Perfection at Arlequin

Smores_cupcakeI almost never make it to the Farmers Market at the Ferry Plaza these days. The Saturday market is overcrowded with tourists if you get there after 10 a.m. (and I am usually trying to sleep in 'til 9.) Tuesday and Thursday's midday market is usually preempted by meetings at work.

But this week, I was actually able to make it to the smaller Thursday market at lunchtime. And it was there that I laid my eyes upon this perfect exhibit of cupcake deliciousness: the s'mores cupcake from Arlequin.

Despite the recent removal of several long-time tenants from the market for being too successful (i.e. Aidell's Sausages) to merit inclusion, this offshoot of Absinthe restaurant now has a booth of baked treats at the Thursday market. And these definitely stole the show.

The cupcake had a taste eerily reminiscent of a graham cracker. The chocolate frosting (which truthfully I would have loved a smidge more of) served as the base for the pile of mini marshmallows that were nicely torched on top.

Truly delish!

I also was able to bring home some dirty girl carrots and a teeny Napa cabbage, baby butter lettuces and carrots, and some Zuckerman red potatoes.

I really have to get there on a Tuesday again soon tho -- I need some of those perfect Iacoppi Farms artichokes!

(originally posted, in error, to my gaming blog. Oy!)